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President is right to veto Martin Putna's professorship

What is the most intensely discussed event in the Czech news these days?

Czech president Miloš Zeman decided to reject the recommendation of an academic council at the Charles University and not to name Dr Martin C. Putna as a full professor. The title "professor" is supposed to be somewhat more special in Czechia because the people with this proper title are named by the president of the country personally. In some sense, they're more analogous to the holders of the National Medal of Science. Like the amnesty, pardons, and members of the constitutional courts, the ability to influence the composition of the full professors is one of the traces of the power of the Czech president – a role that has become largely ceremonial over the decades.

Judging by the screaming in the media and comments and votes in various discussions, about 95% if not 99% of the people in the political parties, schools, and various intellectuals and pseudointellectuals criticize president Zeman for the decision. I can't even imagine how isolated I would feel if I belonged to that environment. In certain cases, one simply has to remain a dissident. When one dares to agree with such a decision by the president of the country, it's clearly one of these heresies.

It must be politically incorrect to point out that Mr Putna is a decadent moron and bigot who shouldn't be considered a good scholar – and who would clearly devaluate and humiliate the ring of the word "professor" if he were elected one. President Zeman must see it in a similar way and he wrote the justification of the refusal to the ministry of education. Many people are screaming that he must publish the justification except that 1) it's not the president's duty, 2) it would only lead to an escalation of the problems. How would it help if President Zeman pointed out that from a scholarly perspective, Mr Putna is just a pile of politically correct decadent crap? (Update, Sunday: Zeman suggested that the problem with Putna was his presence at Prague Pride, a gay parade.)

Let me begin in the early 1990s. I started to study at the Charles University (Faculty of Mathematics and Physics) and because I was always kind of interested in politics, I repeatedly ran in the elections to the student senate and was elected as one of the 8 rank-and-file members.

We would be solving lots of silly things – parties, management of noticeboards, our opinions about the projects to expand the faculty etc., and so on, and so on. One of the things I was proud about was that as a secretary of sports of a sort ;-), I made it possible for students to register for a "workout in the student hostels' gym" as a sport course that saved lots of people's time.

But I want to talk about a different vote that is relevant here. Someone proposed to create a new, 18th faculty of the Charles University. The original faculties would include the Faculty of Maths and Physics; Natural Sciences; Law; some medical and theological faculties, and so on, you get the point. But the proposal was to add a "faculty of humanities".

We were even honestly explained what sort of "researchers" would be there. Feminist studies, professional blacks, postmodern philosophers, homosexual actitivists, and other perverse "fields" that were destined to flourish in the coming decades. I think that Alan Sokal just managed to publish his hoax in the Social Text around the same time. Of course that the student senate (of our faculty of maths and physics) rejected the proposal to create a new faculty of the ultimate pseudointellectual trash that would pretend to be on par with maths and physics but these folks had had already so many supporters that the faculty was created, anyway. For a while, it was just the Institute of Liberal Education (since 1994) but became a full-fledged Faculty of Humanities in 2000.

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Martin Cyril Putna is already a representative of this new "faculty" that shouldn't have existed in the first place and he symbolizes pretty much everything that is wrong with these "humanities". I view him as the Czech counterpart of the feminist studies and professional whining blacks in the U.S., among others.

He is officially a historian of literature or a "comparative literature" expert. If you search Google Scholar for his name, you will find one extensive (800-page) 1998 monography about the Czech Catholic literature between 1848 and 1918 in the European context.

Several articles have closely related topics. The number of citations is 31 for the book and 7;4;4;3... for the several articles you will find. With two or three Polish and Russian exceptions, none of the papers referring to Putna was written by non-Czech authors. His work is not internationally competitive.

I have almost nothing against the history of the Czech Catholic literature except that it looks like an immensely narrow field and one shouldn't become a full professor if he only knows (or only knows how to copy and rearrange texts about) this narrow field (also, I believe that many amateurs who love to read books have the same if not more extensive knowledge of these special subtopics of the history and they don't demand to be even postdocs, surely not full professors). But this is not what I consider essential in this controversy. The essential thing is that he was recommended to become a professor for completely different reasons than several inconsequential articles about a topic no one really cares about.

He represents the ultimate political correctness of the most degenerated type.

In this video, Mr Putna tells us that he's been voting for the Green Party for 10 years or so because he views the party as the most profoundly spiritual one. Imagine that: these lunatics who are eating roots and earthworms, sleeping in the tree tops or in front of the power plants are "spiritual" from the viewpoint of a man who is supposed to become a distinguished professor.

You could expect Mr Putna to sort of support the Catholic Church. But he only supports a Catholic Church that would be led by homosexuals and all these things (that's why Zeman's refusal to promote him was praised by a Catholic official – a rare exception). So in the video above, we learn that the Green Party is spiritual because it supports homosexuals and other things! Holy cow. What is so spiritual about it? On the other hand, the churches are in no way spiritual because they are only interested about the church's assets and homophobia, we learn. A truly deep analysis of the church from someone who is supposed to become a distinguished professor focusing on the Catholic Church!

But that's not the main thing here. Putna was among the most intense critics of Mr Zeman during the presidential campaign. Zeman claims that he only learned about the fact yesterday, a long time after he wrote the refusal letter to the ministry of education, and if he had known about the criticism earlier, it could have increased (and not decreased) Putna's chances to be appointed. The most characteristic anti-Zeman tirade by Mr Putna is this would-be entertaining January 2013 video:

In a language that is supposed to resemble Russian but it's really the Russian language spoken by Czechs who don't really know Russian and who want to make fun of Russian, he pretends to be Mr Putin (their names are very similar, after all) who loved Mr Klaus and who will love Zeman, partly because Zeman also likes to drink alcohol. No other "ideas" may be found in the video.

(Well, I am not sure whether the hysterical support for Putna is mostly because he's anti-Zeman and anti-Klaus or because he is a gay activist but I am pretty sure that one of these two reasons is the key one. Let me clearly point out that one can't become a full professor just because he or she is gay: there are 250,000 gays in the Czech Republic which is still a rather high number.)

I just can't help myself. People who are satisfied with these extraordinarily shallow, oversimplified caricatures – Klaus is pro-Russian; Zeman is pro-Russian; Russia is always bad; someone's drinking habits are what politics is all about – are just indisputable imbeciles. I see no way how I could overlook this self-evident fact. It seems crazy to consider this moron a scholar, especially if he's supposed to be a scholar in the humanities, and the existence of other "scholars" who are ready to recommend this idiot for the highest academic titles must be viewed as a serious problem, not an example of the "academic freedom" which is how the would-be right of similar idiots to call themselves professors has been framed by many people in the media.

One could say that the video above is just a fun video, like my interpretation of the Tom and Jerry theme song. However, there's a difference: Tom and Jerry has manifestly nothing to do with theoretical physics, the reason why I had worked in the scholarly environment. On the other hand, Putna is a social scientist and videos such as the video above do reflect his opinions about his own field or closely related fields. This is really what his professorship would symbolize. (Also, the Russian in my YouTube videos e.g. in Jožin z Bažin in Russian is almost completely correct and the Russian viewers appreciate it for that reason, too. Putna is satisfied with the cheapest conceivable anti-Russian hatred and stereotypes.)

Let me avoid repetitiveness in the expression of my feelings and summarize. Most of the Czech nation – and not only Czech nation – is composed of gullible manipulated stupid sheep who have no idea about this would-be professor, his work, the functioning of the university system, and other things but they don't hesitate for a second if they can support a pseudointellectual wee-wee in his disagreement with the president of the Czech Republic who is actually a much more genuine scholar and intellectual than Mr Putna or anyone at the Faculty of Humanities, for that matter.

Ex-president Klaus hasn't used the right to veto the professors (he just said that in Putna's case, he would sigh but he has always approved the proposals) but I think that the president has always had this right. For Zeman, this part of the presidential rights seems more important than e.g. the amnesties and pardons. This is what the law says. So if people disagree about something, there is still something we should respect: the law. The situation seems completely clear to me. The president's right to veto such proposals isn't just legally sound: It's very healthy that an external authority that stands "above all the fields" is allowed to intervene into the decisions that would otherwise be made purely by cliques of friends who are often as intellectually inferior as the people at the Faculty of Humanities of the Charles University. I think that Larry Summers had played an analogous role at Harvard and everyone should have been grateful to him for that work.

A Prague Pride scene that, according to Zeman's weekend hints, may have decided about the veto of the professorship. The banner held by Mr Putna says "Catholic fagg*ts [uncensored on the picture] are greeting Mr Bátora [a conservative]". Putna's participation at this event wouldn't be my primary reason to reject his professorship but it's a negative issue, anyway, especially because these opinions about homosexuality aren't just his work-unrelated hobby. The promotion of the Catholic Church is a gay-promoting organization is what much of his work – or what they consider his present work – is all about. And sorry, this activism just isn't scholarly work compatible with the title of a distinguished professor.

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reader Shannon said...

France has a government full of these Putna's. Today they've legalised gay marriage, they have removed the word "race" -as in ethnies- (in all dictionaries and in the Constitution), journalists use systematically the word "incivility" instead of beating up or damages on property... We musn't name anything that is against politically correctness for the EU.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right. It's sort of surprising that our political institutions still don't look like this. Maybe it's because the perception from the Internet isn't representative of the population. If it were representative, almost all people with any influence would match this template, too.

reader Shannon said...

And another thing: the EU is now forcing us to extend our Child Benefit to immigrants children born abroad. At the same time a 15% cut down on Child Benefit will take place, indirectly imposed by the EU too... duh.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Yes, when Lubos mentioned "whining blacks" I was going to mention Cornel West, who often is a guest on Bill Maher's RealTime.
He is a buffoon who is afforded all sorts of phony respect for his "achievements".

reader Gordon Wilson said...

"We even honestly had explained to us (edit) what sort of "researchers" would be
there. Feminist studies, professional blacks, postmodern philosophers,
homosexual actitivists, and other perverse "fields" that were destined
to flourish in the coming decades. I think that Alan Sokal just managed
to publish his hoax in the Social Text around the same time."

Even earlier when I was doing my undergrad and grad degrees, the humanities dept was being infested with these moronic parasites. I remember taking a philosophy class to fulfill an arts elective requirement and having the entire grade depend on one essay we could write on any topic of our choosing, and WE would give it the mark we thought it deserved...gad. After all the work involved, tests, assignments etc in all my math and physics courses, eventhough this was dead easy marks, I was highly resentful that people in humanities courses seemed to get the same recognition as we did.

reader Honza said...

Well, it's people like him that have it easiest in the academia. We're only catching up with the west now. This is just a starter. Better get used to it and find something more interesting to be mad about!

reader Gene Day said...

The problem with Putna becoming a Professor is that it cheapens the institution. I know that in Central and Eastern Europe a Professor is an individual who has achieved the very highest academic success and who is a respected world authority in his field.
If a few like Putna are so honored the title will soon carry as much respect as the Nobel Peace Prize.

reader Gene Day said...

I don’t see anything wrong with gay marriage, Shannon, but can your government actually order the removal of the word “race” from dictionaries? Wow!
I have gay friends who feel strongly that simple justice requires that the institution of marriage be available to gays. I think so, too.
My view of Holland is not far from yours, by the way.

reader Peter F. said...

Lubos, I again fairly fully share a slightly less sharply focused - and of course as always far less distinguished - 'carbon copy' of your sentiments! :-)

reader Eugene S said...

This news especially for la Shanone, TRF's Ambassador and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Ireland. In a Pew Research survey, people in eight European countries were asked to rate their neighbors.

Not only did the British and Germans consider the French to be the most arrogant... the French themselves think so, too! (The remaining five countries all think the Germans are the most arrogant.)

Interesting results from Czechia. I think you will find them in exact agreement with the sentiments of our esteemed host, whom I therefore promote to the status of Public-Opinion Barometer.

reader Shannon said...

Dear Eugene, interesting survey :). French saying they are arrogant themselves is it adding to their arrogance ? or does cancel it out ?

reader Shannon said...

Dear Gene, the debate is over anyway. Gays have won their battle.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear woodnfish, he's already loved and celebrated by the Czech academia - and beyond, at least almost the whole Czech cultural front - as well. We're no different from America in this way. Moreover, Putna's expertise doesn't reach the international level so he would have nothing interesting whatsoever - beyond his being a gay activist with banners containing expletives - to offer to other U.S. academics.

By the way, president Zeman mostly surrendered. Putna will be a professor but the professor title will be given to him by the minister, not the president. I am pretty sure that in a comparable situation, Klaus wouldn't surrender this quickly.

reader Allichka said...

Thanks for the post, I can only add, that I was Putna's student of Russian literature back in the 90s and at least then he did not speak any Russian, disliked Russian literature and language and in general was a boring lecturer. How surprised I was to find out that he was actually being nominated a professor, I did not know the subject of his professorship but none the less...